Madeleine Albright has been everywhere in her adopted home town of Denver this week. The former Secretary of State and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, the hard-core Wilsonian who was central in transforming Bill Clinton's second-term foreign policy from cautiously scattershot to Munich-invoking liberal-interventionist, is playing a weird role in Barack Obama's Democratic Party.
This is a time when left-of-center anti-war sentiment is high enough that a relatively unknown Chicago pol croaked the Hillary Clinton machine largely because he was the only major anti-Iraq War candidate in the race. It's a time when Democrats are falling all over themselves criticizing George W. Bush's Russia-provoking recognition of Kosovo as an independent state. And yet the main architect of the Kosovo War—a sovereignty-busting conflict that, unlike Iraq, had no congressional support whatsoever, and much less support at the United Nations—is at the center of rebuilding the Democratic foreign-policy messaging and approach.
You'd think that such a disconnect between anti-war base and pro-interventionist leadership would cause a few brains to explode, but the only people who seem to be hearing the dissonance in Denver are journalists.
True, the foreign policy discussion here is exponentially more robust and well-intended than at the last two Democratic conventions. At each event, no matter who the speaker—Albright, Bill Clinton, Richard Danzig, Richard Holbrooke, William Perry—you will almost definitely hear the same areas of agreement. These are:
1) The U.S. needs to restore its shattered moral authority in the world, and rebuild alliances based on a more collaborative approach.
2) We need to take the war on Al Qaeda more robustly in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
3) Climate change (for the better) and "energy independence" are central to foreign policy.
4) So is "global inequality," "income disparity," and "the growing gap between rich and poor." Oddly, this particular line is never followed up with, "And that's why we need to reduce domestic farm subsidies and take down global trade barriers.
5) Nuclear proliferation is a big problem, and we need to cooperate on it with Russia.
6) The military needs to be rebuilt, expanded, and re-tooled to handle more nation-buildy, soft-power type of chores.
7) More money for diplomacy and translators!
Some of these things are indeed important, and might well make this world a better place, ip doo tan.
But they sidestep the fundamental questions that, you'd think, Democrats (and the rest of us!) want answered. Such as: When do you go to war, and why? Are we still to be the "indispensable nation," with all the responsibility and presumption that comes with it, such as preventing mini-Munichs all over the globe, including such non-Munichs as dictators slaughtering their own people? What happens when all this groovy "collaboration" stuff doesn't produce desired results?
The answers to such questions over the past couple of days have been all over the damned map, even as the facade of unity has continued to obtain. For instance, on the question of America's unipolar role, today Albright gave a luncheon speech that:
A) fretted that the "economic center of gravity" continues to move away from the U.S.;